Roth, Matthew. A Small Mad Hope: Pale Fire, Hazel Shade, and the Oedipal Disaster. 2017

Bibliographic title
A Small Mad Hope: Pale Fire, Hazel Shade, and the Oedipal Disaster
Collection editor
Periodical or collection
Nabokov's Women: The Silent Sisterhood of Textual Nomads
Publication year

Critical approaches to Nabokov’s Lolita tend to focus on the degree to which readers can or cannot discern, behind the façade of Humbert’s constructed Lolita, the actual voice and identity of Dolores Haze. Critics have spent considerably less energy, however, trying to discover another of Nabokov’s tragic females, Pale Fire’s Hazel Shade, though her voice and identity are likewise hidden beneath a shroud of masculine narratives. Just as we must ask what the events of Lolita would look like if seen though Dolores’ eyes, we should try to see the house of mirrors that is Pale Fire through the eyes of Hazel Shade. The task is difficult, for like her namesake, L. Haze, Hazel is rarely allowed to speak; we are left to construct her life and the reasons for her death from the limited information given to us in John Shade’s poem and Charles Kinbote’s commentary.  A close reading of those details, however, reveals an unsettling portrait of life in the Shade family, as well as myriad connections to narratives outside Pale Fire, including Lolita and, most importantly, Ovid’s incestuous story of Myrrha and Cinyras. Ultimately, we come to see how Pale Fire functions as an incest narrative. Reading the story this way, we not only gain a powerful reevaluation of Hazel Shade, but we discover the inbred relationship between the novel’s structure and its story.